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Durham explosion: 9 firefighters injured, raising total injured to 25

<p>There was an explosion Wednesday in downtown Durham.</p>

There was an explosion Wednesday in downtown Durham.

The toll from Durham’s explosion Wednesday continues to increase. 

Durham Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said at a Thursday morning press conference that nine firefighters were injured—one, Durham firefighter Darren Wheeler, was seriously injured—pushing the total injuries from the blast up to 25 people, including six critical injuries. Zoldos said the firefighters are expected to be released from area hospitals Thursday. 

The firefighters continued to rescue people after sustaining injuries from the blast, which happened after firefighters arrived to respond to reports of a gas leak. Alongside the Durham Police Department, firefighters were able to evacuate eight to 10 people before the explosion. 

Kong Lee, the 61-year-old owner of Kaffeinate coffee shop, died in the explosion that destroyed his store. Lee opened Kaffeinate with his two children, Raymond and Diana Lee, in the fall of 2017.

“We want to express our condolences to the family and friends of him,” Zoldos said. “We know this is a very difficult time for them.”

There is still an ongoing search for additional victims, Zoldos added, but there is “no indication” of any additional victims and no reports of missing people. 

Zoldos said that at least 15 buildings were damaged, a spike from the five that were noted Wednesday. The buildings are being reevaluated today for re-occupancy, Zoldos said. The Durham Fire Department is working with building owners to try to get people back into their buildings. 

“Safety is a major concern because of the possibility of additional structural collapse as well as the potential for hazardous materials being on site,” Zoldos said. “There will be a lot of dust and debris that’s getting stirred up.”

The Durham Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office, the Durham Police Department, the State Bureau of Investigations, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are in the process of investigating the blast, he added. 

Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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